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Chapter 2

Love or Basketball

Brian came down for breakfast the next day. A steady rain was falling outside and there was a fall chill in the air. His mom Carolyn, his dad Tom, and his sister, Missy were already at the table. Brian had worked late the night before, trying and re-trying different calculations to prove his muscle-twitch theory. Like most scientists, Brian was late to bed and early to rise. Things like sleeping and eating took away valuable lab time. Brian had read once that Albert Einstein had 7 identical suits in his closet so that he wouldn’t have to spend time deciding what to wear.

“Hey kiddo, up late last night?” his dad greeted him.

“Yes, and it was worth it. I made a breakthrough on my research. I’m sure I have the proof for my hypothesis, it’s only a matter of clearing up the math.”

“That so” his dad replied. “What is your hypothesis about?”

“My calculations show that I can chemically bombard the sarcoplasmic reticulum within the myofibrils of the muscles, causing them to alter, within nanoseconds, the calcium proteins controlling fast and slow twitch muscle reactions. Once altered, the muscles, in this case the leg muscles, more specifically, the vastus lateralis, the vastus medialis, the vastus intermedius and the rectus femoris, would instantly change from 100% fast twitch to 100% slow twitch, and vice-versa, within the blink of an eye, depending on what physical demand was being placed on them by the body. Say you needed to lift a heavy sack of something, the muscles would sense it and change to all fast twitch for maximum lifting power. Or, if you needed to run a couple of blocks to catch a plane, for instance, the muscles would change to all slow twitch, giving you maximum endurance.” Brian laid a legal pad down next to him and began calculating. “Just cereal for me, mom, he said without looking up.” His mom and dad looked at each other and smiled.

“Brian, what would that be useful for?” his mom asked.

“Well, lots of things. For most people, their muscles tire quickly so just giving people more of the right kind of energy, when they need it, would be a start.” He punched some numbers into a calculator and jotted the new numbers down.

“I knew that computer you built in your room was powerful son but working on genetic transformations in your bedroom seems a little ambitious, even for you” his dad added.

“I haven’t done any genetic alterations. I haven’t even run any preliminary tests. I’m just working on the equations. In fact, I haven’t done anything beyond the research.”

“Still, Brian” his dad continued, obviously concerned. “Cellular genetic modifications?”

“Brian’s not entering the science fair this year” his mom interrupted, helping Brian change the subject.

“What” replied his dad. “Why?”

“I don’t have a project to enter, for one” Brian answered without looking up. “But I wouldn’t have time right now even if I did. My time is all tied up in my research.”

“What about this muscle project you’re working on?

“It’s not a project. It’s not even an experiment yet. There is nothing physical to enter in the science fair. If I was further along in my research then yes, there would be some eye-catching demonstrations I could put on.”

‘Oh, like what” he mom asked?

“Demonstrations of increased stamina and strength. Real crowd ‘wowers’ like a ‘normal’ person jumping really high or an elderly person lifting a heavy weight.”

“Now that sounds like a winning project.”

“I’m sure, but I am nowhere near that yet. At least I don’t think I am. If I entered the science fair, all I would have is a white board with a mathematical formula of my hypothesis on it.  Not exactly a show stopper.” Brian looked back down at his notes.

“Understood. Will you be home after school?”

“Not right away I might use the school’s computer for some of my calculations. It’s processes information a lot faster than mine can, so?”

Missy had been eating her breakfast completely absorbed by the music in her earbuds and the texts and videos from her friends on her phone.

“How about you Missy” Brian’s dad said in a slightly raised voice trying to get her attention over her music. Hearing her name, she pulled one earbud away and gave her dad a “what” look.

“Will you be home after school, sweetheart” he asked?

“Nope, I’m working on my essay after school with Angela”

“At her house?” her mom joined in the conversation.

“Yeeesss” Missy answered, dragging the word out to increase her sarcasm.

“Are you two dating” her mom continued?

“Dating?” “Mother really, no one says ‘dating’ anymore could you sound more old fashion?”

“Ok, going steady, girlfriend and girlfriend, exclusive?” “You pick.”

“Answer D” she replied. “None of the above.”

“Brian, what do you call it when two people, who are attracted to each other” she paused, looking at Missy, who rolled her eyes, “get together after school to work on an essay.”

Brian looked up from his calculations and glanced around the table. “Studying?”

Missy held up her hand and looked at her parents. “Satisfied?”

“Okay, okay” her mom said, surrendering.

“You guys better get going” their dad added. Missy slid back from the table, grabbed her back pack and phone, and was out the door wordlessly. Brian glanced at the time on his phone. “Shoot, I was hoping to hit the school lab this morning. Might still have time. See you guys tonight.” He headed out the door.

Brian’s mom and dad sat at the table finishing their coffee. “It used to be simple. You had a daughter, you forbid her from being in a boy’s bedroom’s after school. You never worried about your daughter and other girls” Carolyn observed, taking a sip of coffee.

“Those two don’t walk to school together anymore, do they” Tom said as he watched Brian hurry out the front door.

“Who, Missy and Brian? No, not for a while now. But I wouldn’t worry. They are both walking to school with friends.”

“I know, it’s just hard watching them grow apart.”

“Honey, they’re not growing apart, they’re growing up.”

“Should I worry about Missy?”

“Worry, why?”

“I mean, Brian I’m not worried about. One day he’ll be working for NASA or teaching at Harvard, but Missy seems to be missing…direction? Is that the right word?”

“She gets straight A’s”

“I know dear” Tom answered getting up from the table. “But there is more to life than straight A’s. Hey, I gotta go. See you tonight.”

“Hey, same question for you” Carolyn yelled after him.

“Yes, I will be home right after work” he answered her, without hearing the question. “We’re on the same wavelength, Carolyn.”

“Get out of here” she waved him toward the door laughing.

Brian spent the majority of the school day in a fog, sleepwalking through his classes, the gloom of the day adding to his funk. Despite the dragging day, Brian found himself in his last class, staring at the rain hitting against the dark windows of the room. His yellow legal pad had grown from the one page of figures at the breakfast table that morning to now more than 10 pages of numbers, complete with notes and sidebars. There were multiple corrections and changes. Brian barely noticed the final bell and it was only the sound of the other kids shuffling past and knocking against his desk that brought him back to reality. He gathered his things and stepped out into the hallway. Suddenly, Brian noticed a commotion near the cafeteria entrance. A group of cheerleaders were picking up a torn banner from the floor. Some of the cheerleaders were sitting, which Brian thought was odd, until he saw a tipped over step ladder and the mess on the floor. Another group of kids were gathered around Woody Bear, who had someone in a headlock. It was his friend and lab partner, William. He started toward the disturbance.

“Can I help here, Woody? Please.”

Woody spun around to face Brian without releasing his hold on William, who simply spun with Woody like a doll in a child’s arm.  He scowled at Brian. “Yeah, you can help me. You can help all of us. Teach this spaz how to walk, ok. These guys were trying to hang a banner and klutz here walked right into them.” Woody grabbed one end of the torn banner a cheerleader was holding. “See, ruined.”

“How about if you let William go, he apologizes, and him and I will make a new banner. We’ll even hang it ourselves” Brian said in as calm a voice as he could muster, trying not to rile Woody any further.

“I got a better idea. Why don’t I stuff that banner and this dork into that trash can over there?”

“Woody please” Brian pleaded.

“Or maybe you’d like to take his place?”

Brian stood frozen. He was not used to physical confrontations. Despite his nerdy leanings most of the tough kids left him alone. He had been lucky going through school relatively un-picked on. There was the occasional verbal taunting and name calling, but Brian had never been in a fight and he had never been hit by anyone. Well, other than his sister, who, Brian thought, could punch fairly hard when she wanted to. He was suddenly aware that everyone was staring at him. William was still locked under Woody’s arm, both his hands pulling futilely to free himself, but Woody just stood there.

“Okay, I’ll take his place.”

The students buzzed and Woody smirked, releasing his grip on William and pushing him off to the side. “Alright Ferco” Woody started toward him. Backing up, Brian tripped over the spilled ladder the cheerleaders had been using to hang their banner and fell backwards into a pile of glue, glitter and scrap paper leftover from the project. Everyone laughed.

“Enough” came a deep voice from behind the crowd of students. It was Kirk Harden. Doris was with him. Woody stood still as Kirk and Doris approached. Kirk looked Brian up and down for several seconds, then turned to Woody. “The kids got guts. Let them go.” Woody simply nodded his head. “Come on” Kirk added. “Let’s go.” Brian was still shaking inside as Kirk, Woody and Doris turned to leave, the crowd falling back to make room for them. Just before she turned away, Doris looked at Brian and smiled. The remaining students quickly moved on as well, and the whole thing was over.  William bent to help Brian. “Thanks Brian, I was in a pickle there.”

“What happened anyway?” Brian asked, shaking glitter and scraps of paper off himself.

“I was running an equation through my head and didn’t see the ladder. Or the girls.”

Nicole Jennings walked over to Brian and William with both halves of the now useless banner. “We assume you’ll have a new banner, exactly like this one, hanging outside the cafeteria by this time tomorrow, right?”

William took the two pieces from Nicole. “I got this” he said.

“I’m sure” was her only response and her and the rest of the cheer squad turned away.

“Let me help you up, Brian” William said, rising and reaching his hand out to pull Brian off the floor.

“You go, I’m going to sit here for a minute and clean myself up.”

“Thanks again” William said, sheepishly giving a quick wave as he left, unsure as usual.

“Trying out for the pep squad, are we?” It was Bug. “Or did you suddenly decide glitter is your thing?”

“I was helping a friend.”

“I heard. That’s why I hurried over here. Pretty noble gesture there, Brian. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“I didn’t really do anything.”

“You stood up to Woody Bear. Believe me, that is a big something.”

“Well, it wasn’t going to end well until Kirk showed up.”

“You mean Kirk and Doris showed up.”

“Yes, but Doris never said a word and all he said was ‘enough’. Where does that kind of respect come from?”

“He’s Kirk Harden.”

“I know but to end a fight with one word.”

“There’s a magic in fighting battles beyond endurance.”

“Come on” Bug said, and she reached her hand out to pull Brian up off the floor. The school day was over and most of the other students were gone. They were alone in the hallway.

“Bug, can I ask you something?”

“Sure” she said brushing paper and glitter off his clothes.

“Am I…cute?”

“Your looks are kinda pretty, when your face isn’t screwing it up” she said, smiling.

“Come on, be serious for once, Bug…Jennifer…”

“Jennifer?” “Wow, thank you, it’s a real moment.”

Brian didn’t laugh or even smile.

“Jennifer” he said, pausing to straighten his clothes and pull himself together. “Would you say I’m cute?”

Bug brushed a mop of black hair back from Brian’s eyes. “You’d do in a pinch” she said, breaking into a smile that made Brian blush and drop his eyes to the floor. Placing her hand gently under Brian’s chin, she lifted his head and looked into his eyes. “But Doris Prytle is not in a pinch. She’s with Kirk Harden, and he’s tall, and dark, and muscular and beautiful.”


“Yes, beautiful. And you are, well, you’re Brian. But you know what? You have something Kirk Harden doesn’t.”

“What’s that?”

She leaned in to whisper in his ear.

“A beautiful mind.”

Brian smiled. “I think I’m okay now. I’d better get going anyway. I’m trying to get some lab time in before I have to be home.”

“Do me a favor. Don’t work so hard. In fact, don’t think so hard either.”

“Actually, that’s exactly what I need right now, just to bury myself in my research.”

Bug frowned.

“I appreciate you worrying about me and thanks for pulling me up off the floor. But my work is what I do to relax and take my mind off my problems.”

“The only problems you should have are those of a normal high school boy. Acne, curfews, who’s house are you going to play cards at on Friday night.”

“My research is important. And I don’t have acne.”

“Is your research important for the greater good of mankind or to get the attention of your Molly?”

“My Molly? Who is Molly?”

“The girl from she’s out of my league.”

“Meanwhile, this Molly is a hard ten. And that five-point disparity is a chasm. You can’t jump more than 2 points.”

“So, I’m a five?”

“More like a 7” Bug said. “But rating systems for looks are the shallowest way of defining someone and I would never do that to you or to anyone.”

“Comparing women to farm animals” she quoted as she picked up her things. “Anyway, you’re okay now. You better get to the lab. I have to get home myself. See you later.”

Brian picked his books up. They had scattered when his backpack spilled open during the excitement. He looked at his phone. No time for the school lab today, it was already 3:45. He hurried home and went straight to his room, clicking the power buttons to his research computer and lab equipment as he walked through his bedroom door. The computer and machines hummed and purred as they came to life, and Brian moved quickly from one to the next, pushing and clicking the buttons and switches that set the variables for his experiment from memory. Sitting down in front of his laptop, he stared at the equation on the screen. The screen was all red, letting Brian know that his equation was incomplete or non-functioning, or, in this case, both. Pulling the yellow legal pad from his backpack with his latest figures, he carefully punched in the new numbers. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the ‘enter’ button.



Nothing to do now but wait, he thought. Getting up from his chair, he walked over and stood in front of the mirror hanging on his door. “Maybe you can’t jump more than 2 dating points, but I bet a different Brian Ferco, a more athletic Brian Ferco, could.” He stared at his reflection.  “Ladies and Gentlemen” he said out loud, imitating an announcer’s voice. “Number 7 for the Greenville Dragons…Brian Brian Brian Ferco Ferco Ferco” he continued, adding his own echo. “I would choose 7 for my uniform number. 3+4=7. The number that Pythagoras held as perfect because it contains the sum of the sides of a triangle and a square, the two perfect shapes. 7. The Complete number." He glanced back to his laptop screen. Not only had it finished calculating, but the screen was now all green. Brian couldn’t believe it. He quickly sat down to review the results. According to the computer’s software, Brian’s calculations were checked and re-checked over 1 million times. The word “confirmed” was blinking at the bottom of the screen. Brian stood up and paced the room. Was it possible? Had he really found the formula for controlling fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers? There was only one way to be sure. A physical test to confirm the results. But did he dare? Brian placed a beaker under the drip tube of the computer. He punched in the command to formulate the necessary mixture, then paused while he debated with himself. His finger hovered over the ‘enter’ button briefly before pushing it to send the final command. The computer hummed, lighting up as it mixed the ingredients Brian’s formula called for. After a few minutes, the flow tube gurgled and bubbled, and a pale blue liquid began dispensing into the beaker. When the mixture stopped flowing Brian picked it up.  He pulled the contents page up and glanced at the ingredients the computer listed for the formula. Nothing toxic. He held the beaker up in front of him, staring at the sky-blue concoction. He wafted the air above the beaker toward his nose with his hand. Nothing. It was odorless. He dipped a glass stirring rod into the beaker and placed a small drop onto his tongue. It tingled but nothing more. It was tasteless. Pausing another second, he placed the beaker to his lips, tilted the glass container back, and poured the potion down his throat. Instantly, his legs began to tingle, growing in intensity with each passing second. Brian walked around his room, trying to ease the growing excitement in his legs, but it did no good. He began rubbing his legs as he walked, thinking the formula was interfering with circulation but the tingling continued to grow in intensity. Just when he thought he couldn’t take the prickling in his legs any longer, the tingling began to reside until it disappeared as fast as it came.

Brian stood trying to decide what to do next. Did it work? His legs did feel different, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. “A test,” he thought. “I need to test it. But how? A simple jumping test.” He looked up. “I’ll jump up and touch the ceiling. That should give me an idea of what, if anything, has happened.” He pushed his chair under the desk and kicked his backpack and jacket off to the side to give himself room. “Okay,” he thought. “Here goes.” Squatting down as low as he could, he pushed off with all his might. Instantly he shot up, and, striking his head hard against the ceiling, dropped in a heap to the floor. He was out cold.

Submitted: March 31, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Gary192837465. All rights reserved.


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